Stimuli that possess inherently rewarding or aversive qualities elicit emotional responses and also induce learning by imparting valence upon neutral sensory cues. Evidence has accumulated implicating the amygdala as a critical structure in mediating these processes. We have developed a genetic strategy to identify the representations of rewarding and aversive unconditioned stimuli (USs) in the basolateral amygdala (BLA) and have examined their role in innate and learned responses. Activation of an ensemble of US-responsive cells in the BLA elicits innate physiological and behavioral responses of different valence. Activation of this US ensemble can also reinforce appetitive and aversive learning when paired with differing neutral stimuli. Moreover, we establish that the activation of US-responsive cells in the BLA is necessary for the expression of a conditioned response. Neural representations of conditioned and unconditioned stimuli therefore ultimately connect to US-responsive cells in the BLA to elicit both innate and learned responses.
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